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Shipping during the coronavirus pandemic

Before air travel became the norm, passenger liners were the preferred mode of overseas travel, a major support to the tourism industry. Cruise holidays, which were first introduced in the mid-19th century, were reinvented and retrofitted to cater to a sector seeking new experiences onboard.

Shipping during the coronavirus pandemic
29 April 2020 - 19:32

Shipping during the coronavirus pandemic

Before air travel became the norm, passenger liners were the preferred mode of overseas travel, a major support to the tourism industry. Cruise holidays, which were first introduced in the mid-19th century, were reinvented and retrofitted to cater to a sector seeking new experiences onboard. The 1970s television classic The Love Boat further promoted the concept of luxury cruise ships, contributing to the idea of cruise ship travel as a luxury vacation in itself rather than just a necessary means to get around.

As a consequence, training requirements were defined and career paths were clearly plotted for those who wished to pursue a career in the cruising industry. Circular employment was also offered as an option for cruise personnel who chose to transition back to land-based work. Their invaluable experiences on board opened up business opportunities for them in the tourism sector from bed and breakfasts to restaurants and tour operations.

Everything went well, until the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) came along and turned our world as we knew it upside down.

A global pandemic of this magnitude was never in the minds of the designers and operators of the vessels when they assessed the possible risks that cruise passengers could be exposed to. In their assessment, they took into account International Maritime Organization (IMO) regulations for safety, pollution prevention and security. They considered the health, safety, security and quarantine requirements of the ports on which their vessels call. They also factored in the possible accidents and diseases that could happen on board; but like everyone else, including leaders of nations, and regional and international organizations, they never envisioned a scenario where a pandemic would break loose, that could make the cruising industry a potential vector for the spread of the disease.

To stanch the further escalation of the epidemic, major cruise operators cancelled all bookings until as late as June with possible extensions. Vessels have been laid up and cruise personnel are being sent home to wait out the crisis. Those who have been taken ill are looked after and their medical needs are met until they are safely conducted to their doorsteps. Those who are well have been or are in the process of being sent home with assistance given at every stop until they could safely reach their countries and eventually, subject to quarantine regulations, their families.

It is to their credit that all cruise operators that have employed Filipino cruise personnel have strictly adhered to the requirements of the Maritime Labor Convention when looking after their crew and have even given more than what the convention required. They have ensured that the requirements of the Philippine government found in the Philippine Overseas Employment Agency contract have not only been met, but exceeded. At this time, our crew are looking forward to get back on board. Like us, they are all wishing that this would end and with God’s grace, we will all be able to get back to our normal daily activities.

This hope is echoed by IMO Secretary General Kitack Lim in his reassuring message to seafarers, which says in part:

“Since the coronavirus became a global pandemic and most of the world has gone into lockdown, we have all had to adjust swiftly to new ways of living and working. But, for many seafarers, this has plunged them into difficult situations that could not have been imagined in modern times.

”The difficulties the maritime industry has faced in conducting crew changeovers, providing medical care for sick and injured crew, allowing for shore leave and the inability to resupply or repatriate crews concern me greatly. All of us at IMO understand the challenges you face. To all seafarers, my message to you is strong and clear: We are listening. We hear you.

“At IMO, we have been in urgent contact with trade unions, seafarer welfare organizations, ship owners, governments and our fellow United Nations agencies, especially the International Labour Organization, to find solutions.

“I have written to all our member-states, urging them to recognize all seafarers as “key workers,” remove any barriers to your documentation and lift national travel restrictions so that you can get home on conclusion of your contracts, and rejoin your families.

“And members of my team here at IMO have been working round-the-clock to help bring individual cases to a speedy resolution.

“Seafarers, my dear colleagues, you are on the front line in this global fight. Your work is essential, and your situation is unique. I wish you good health and good welfare in this time of crisis. I want you to know that you are not alone. You are not forgotten. Stay strong.”

Such a strong message of hope could not have come at a better time. This hope is not the Pollyannaish kind. It is the more solid hope as defined by American author Rebecca Solnit:
“Hope is an embrace of the unknown and the unknowable, an alternative to the certainty of both optimists and pessimists. Optimists think it will all be fine without our involvement; pessimists take the opposite position; both excuse themselves from acting. It’s the belief that what we do matters even though how and when it may matter, who and what it may impact, are not things we can know beforehand.”

Yes, let us hope. But let us also take action.

Source: Manila Times, by Ambassador Carlos Salinas


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